Another one bites the dust.
As Montrose land gets pricier and more attractive to affluent Houstonians at a time when gay and lesbians have become more assimilated into mainstream society, its scruffy alternative establishments continue to be snuffed out. The latest casualty of the changing times is EJ's Bar, a neighborhood dive known for go-go dancers, drag shows and a freewheeling clientele. After more than 40 years as a Montrose institution, the bar is closing on June 30, after Houston's annual LGBT Pride Festival and Parade weekend.
The bar, in a prime location behind Buffalo Exchange near the intersection of Dunlavy and Westheimer, has been sold to a California development company, which plans to renovate the building into a hip restaurant and bar, a longtime bartender told CultureMap. There is also speculation that the property could be demolished to make way for a townhome development.
The current owner did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. But he posted a detailed letter on the bar's Facebook page confirming the closing. "Any bar, like most good things, has a shelf life, and it is better to end this adventure while things are good," he wrote, adding,
The Montrose community has changed much in the last ten years, and it is at a significant crossroads. Think back to the number of LGBT bars that existed 10, 20, even 30 years ago, as opposed to how many LGBT bars are in Montrose now. We have evolved a long way since 1974 — the Police no longer raid gay bars, HIV and AIDS (for most) are chronic but manageable diseases that no longer unites us in fear, or separates us from the straight community because of ignorance and intolerance, everyone has access to affordable health care, straight bars are safer and more inviting for us, and the Internet has made “other” aspects of our lives “easier.”
While I believe there will always be a need for LGBT bars, the writing is on the wall for the need for so many LGBT bars. This is the price we pay for greater acceptance in the mainstream community, but our community has found other ways to connect and support each other, and that is something to celebrate."
Ray Hill, the dean of Houston's gay community, says he is not surprised by such closings as EJ's, Chances, the former lesbian bar that was transformed into Underbelly restaurant by James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd and Mary's, the former leather bar replaced by the ultra-trendy Blacksmith coffee house. "The function of the bar has changed," Hill says. "It's not so much a cruising or pick-up place as much as a casual meeting center."
Also, Hill noted that such bars "are culturally based and as the culture changes, they have to change with the times." He notes that several Montrose gay bars owned by Charles Armstrong, including South Beach, JR's Bar & Grill and the Montrose Mining Company, have continued to thrive by staying current. "He offers a different atmosphere for different people," Hill notes.
Even so, there's something sad about the passing of bars that have a distinctive character and don't care about being trendy, Hill says. "The male dancers (at EJ's) are not quite up to the standards (of the flashier bars). But what they lack in physique and beauty, they always made up with enthusiasm."